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The Ultimate Guide to Shoe Fit

The fit of your shoes can have tremendous impact on not only your comfort and performance during activity, but can have some negative side effects as well. Gone are the days of the shoe store clerk sitting you down, measuring your feet and bringing a selection of shoes that fit you. Luckily Canadian Certified Pedorthists are trained in shoe fit and function—and while they may not carry shoes in their clinic, they can arm you with the knowledge to get the fit right. Here are some handy tips next time you're at the shoe store:

1. Length

Length is the measurement we all know, and might be the only one we pay attention to. We've all used the old "thumb trick" where we try on the shoe, and immediately push down with our thumb to find the big toe. This might work in some instances, but isn't the most accurate and certainly won't work for stiffer footwear like hikers or steel-toed boots. There is a better way, and it involves removing the sockliner, or the "insole" as we like to call it (incorrectly—the insole is a part of the shoe that can't be removed, it's sewn to the upper).

Lay the sockliner flat on the ground and step on it with your heel at the back. Now we have a view "inside" the shoe, and how the length of the shoe lines up with your foot. Make sure that the sockliner, and therefore shoe, is about 1/2" longer than your longest toe. Our feet shift forward in our shoes when we walk, and we need this extra room.

Correct shoe sizing
Left: Correct length, Right: Too short

Too little room, we risk rubbing of the toes at the end of the shoe, or worse, curling them which can lead to deformity of the toes. Too long, and we introduce other problems like heel lift and blisters, and potentially tripping hazard. Don't be hung up on your "size". There is often mismatch in shoe manufacturer sizing, so this method ensures the right length no matter the brand.

2. Width

Width is just as important as length when it comes to shoe fit. It can introduce just as many problems if you get it wrong: toe numbness, blistering, bunions & bunionettes, and neuromas just to name a few. The ball of the foot is the widest part of your foot, and corresponds to the ball of the shoe.

Try the shoe on, lace it up, and stand up. You should feel a pleasant snugness across your midfoot (arch area) and ball of your foot. The ball of your foot should be perfectly aligned with the ball of the shoe, if you have the length right. If it is too tight, do not size up in length despite this being your instinct. Instead, try the next width up in the same size (e.g. go from a D to an EE, or from a B to a D). If there is no widths available, select a different model or brand and start back at step 1. There should be no "slop" at the ball of the foot either, so go narrower if this is the case.

Many shoemakers, especially fashion brands, don't offer variety in width sizing. Most of the more reputable athletic shoe makers, and some dress brands offer widths: some go from 4A all the way up to size 6E! Some brands just might not fit your foot, and that's okay.

3. Toe Box Shape

correct toe box shape
Don't crowd your toes!

The shape of the toe is a fashion choice, but shouldn't impact our natural toe shape. When the toe box is too narrow or pointed, it squishes our toes together and can cause blistering, callousing, or even toe deformity. Select a shoe with a toe shape that doesn't impact your natural foot shape.

Depth of the toe box is also important: if your toes are touching the top of the shoe, it's too shallow and a different model should be chosen. Be especially careful if you have hammer toes or clawed toes.

4. General Upper Fit

After walking around the store, you'll get an idea of how the shoe feels. Take a look at the material as you walk (don't forget to look up occasionally!) and look for strange creasing, or otherwise bagginess to the fabric. You may have satisfied the other requirements of shoe fit, but the shoe may still be too loose in other areas!

Excess material can bunch and crease more than it should, which can actually begin to dig into your skin. Too much creasing and wrinkling can also lead to premature wear of the shoe and the need to overtighten the laces—creating new pinch points in the process. The upper should form one diagonal crease across the ball of the foot when it bends, and the material around your ankles should not gape or sag as you move.


With the above fitting information in mind, you should now be able to fit shoes like a pro, the way a Pedorthist would fit them! No matter your style preferences (aside from pointy dress shoes!), you should be able to correctly size your new shoes every time. Remember to bring your orthotics if you already have them, as this can affect how your foot takes up space in the shoe. Happy shoe shopping!

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